Before we get to the latest conference realignment news of Texas A&M sending an effective break-up letter to Dan Beebe and the Big 12, let’s take a moment to pour out some Cris in memory of the Cy-Hawk Trophy Version 2.0. It lived for less than a week, but it left an indelible image in the minds of Americans the same way that the chick from The Exorcist warms your heart the first time you see her head turn around 180 degrees. Only this trophy could make the Altoona Senior Bowling League Trophy with a Mold-a-Rama Lion Pasted on the Side (known in some circles as “The Land Grant Trophy”) look like the freaking Stanley Cup by comparison, which was a phenomenal achievement. It’s a shame that it received a Suge Knight cap in its ass before it even had a chance to explore the world.
As for Texas A&M changing its status to “Single” on its Facebook account, it’s been something that’s been coming down the pike for the last couple of weeks. What’s interesting is that my questioning of the financial parameters on the SEC side was confirmed by a conference official in the New York Times:
The official acknowledged that because of the length and structure of the SEC’s current television contract, adding Texas A&M and a 14th member would not be financially beneficial from a rights standpoint.
Texas A&M and Team No. 14 are expected to receive a pro rata share equal to what the SEC’s 12 current universities are making: an average of about $18 million in league payouts. (Individual universities can make more money from their separate television deals.)
The SEC deal, which ends in 2025, has a few windows when it can be renegotiated but no one from the SEC or the networks expects any radical change.
So, this move is NOT about the SEC being able to reopen its television deal in order to gain more money than what the United States currently has on hand to pay Social Security checks (as so many people have assumed). Maybe the SEC sees this as the one opportunity to get A&M in the next couple of decades and that’s why they’re moving now despite not being able to realize much (if any) TV revenue from their addition until after 2024. Whatever the reasoning might be, it seems that since the SEC can’t just open up its TV contracts again by expansion, such expansion is going to be kept at a minimum for now. As a result, the obituaries being pre-written for the Big 12 and ACC from the SEC supposedly going into 16-school superconference mode immediately are way too premature. The SEC will need to find a school #14 fairly soon, but who knows who it will be. (I do NOT believe for a second that it will be Virginia Tech, but I’ll write about that more extensively in a separate post.) Right now, appears that either (a) the Big 12 will lose another school to the SEC on top of A&M, such as Missouri or (b) the Big 12 and one of either the ACC or Big East (maybe West Virginia) may lose a school to the SEC, yet in each event those leagues will still continue to live.
This gets to this question: who the hell would join the Big 12 after losing A&M and maybe another school?
Let’s start by putting some asinine “Notre Dame to the Big 12” proposals to rest. Somehow, a friendship between Jack Swarbrick and DeLoss Dodds with a 4-game football series over the course of 8 years has been transformed by some in Big 12 country to signal Texas and Notre Dame working together to split up the college football universe. (Examples of this aren’t just in Texas, but the Kool-Aid is spreading all the way to St. Louis, too.) Putting aside the fact that Notre Dame would effectively throw away, well, ALL of its rivalries in this scenario in order to play Texas Tech, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and friends (as opposed to the more simple solution of just playing the two schools that are of interest them of Texas and Oklahoma as an independent… which ND happens to be already doing), I’ll reiterate what I’ve stated several times on this blog before: independence is a school identity issue for Notre Dame, NOT a TV money issue. It continues to amaze me how many people think the money that ND is getting from NBC is somehow special when Northwestern and Washington State are absolutely murdering the Irish on that metric in their respective conferences’ equal revenue sharing arrangements. The point is that ND isn’t independent in order to maintain an NBC contract. Instead, it’s the other way around: ND has an NBC contract as a means to maintain independence. In other words, the endgame for ND is independence in and of itself (not the money that is made from being independent, as the school has plenty of money from its alumni base). Thus, all of the suggestions that the Longhorn Network shows how the Big 12 could offer ND a way to keep its NBC contract are completely irrelevant, as even if that were the threshold issue (and it isn’t), the Big East would gladly take in ND on that basis or, better yet, they could just stay independent. Now, if we get to a model where there are 4 16-school superconferences and you structurally MUST be a member of one of those 4 leagues in order to have access to the national championship game, then that’s the point where ND would join a conference. It won’t be a moment before that point, though.
Getting that out of the way, let’s take a look at some realistic candidates to join the Big 12:
1. BYU – This is really the Big 12’s best target that would almost assuredly accept. I’ve gone over why I believe that BYU would actually be fairly successful as an independent and that translates into being a viable addition to an AQ conference like either the Big East or Big 12. Based on fan base size and long-term TV value, BYU is clearly the most valuable school available in the non-AQ ranks.
2. Louisville – While conference realignment is all about football, it should be noted that UL was #2 in the country in basketball revenue in its last season in Freedom Hall. With its new Yum! Center (or as I like to call it, the “KenTacoHut Center”) revenue, the school will almost assuredly be #1 on that list when last year’s figures come out. At the same time, UL has a solid football fan base that has simply been beaten down by some horrible coaching over the past few years. If I were Dan Beebe, my plan would be to extend invites to BYU and Louisville immediately after A&M makes it exit. The issue with Louisville is that they may prefer to stay in the Big East, although that particular league may not come out unscathed if the ACC takes a replacement school or two from there. I’ve talked to a number of Louisville alums who, at a fan level, do not support a move to the Big 12, but if we’re talking about a league that’s reasonably assured of keeping both Texas and Oklahoma, UL’s leadership might see things differently.
3. TCU – A Big 12 with both UT and A&M has zero need to add any other Texas-based schools. With A&M leaving, though, quality becomes more of a concern than markets and it may be more beneficial to go even further into the Texas market compared to some of the other non-BYU non-AQ options out there. I had been pushing TCU to the Big East for a very long time and was happy to see that marriage happen, yet there’s a chance that they’ll never move in together. Like Louisville, though, the Big 12 may actually not be that attractive compared to the Big East right now. Adding TCU would be a good football move for the Big 12, but the good (and/or forced) political move would possibly be adding…
4. Houston – There seems to be two schools of thought regarding Houston going to the Big 12. The first is that this would be a nice move from a political perspective, where the leaving of one Texas-based university from the Big 12 opens up an AQ spot for another school from the state. If we also believe that UT enjoys tons of control, this is yet another school that it can lean on for the long-term. The other school of thought, though, is that UT would want nothing to do with Houston. In essence, it’s almost too easy of a political bailout for A&M while UT ends up being forced to always take care of UH down the line if the Longhorns ever want to explore other options (i.e. heading to a Pac-16). We’re already seeing some Texas politicians getting into the act on this front. A year ago, I would’ve put UH near the bottom of the list of any possible Big 12 candidates. Now, though, they may very well be the most likely next addition.
5. UNLV – Location, location, location. This market ought to have a pro franchise yet all of the leagues are still spooked by the tiny bit of gambling that occurs here. Nevada is also the most populous state that doesn’t have an AQ school. I’m always surprised that UNLV doesn’t get a little more love in these conference realignment scenarios. As far as the non-AQ schools go, they have some fairly nice attributes with virtually no local competition (albeit with more value on the basketball side as opposed to football).
6. Air Force – National following and generally performs the best out of the service academies. From a pure financial perspective, Air Force might be right behind BYU in terms of desirability. As for actual football, though, there’s a big-time risk that the Falcons will have competitive issues at the AQ level in the way that Army couldn’t even handle C-USA. There’s simply always going to be a limit to how well Air Force could ever perform (not that this is unjustified, as its students have far more important duties than playing football).
7. New Mexico – Flagship university of a fast-growing state with an excellent basketball fan base. The problem: they’re to football what Rebecca Black is to singing.
8. Memphis – Ditto, only it’s not a flagship.
9/10. SMU/Rice – All you need to know is here.
Purely throwing crap against the wall right now, I’d say that A&M is the only loss from the Big 12, which will spur DeLoss Doss… er… the conference to invite BYU, Houston and UNLV to get back up to 12. In other news, we have real football games being played next week. It can’t come soon enough.
(Image from Rotten Tomatoes)